Study looks at catering First Nation food guides to individual communities

·3 min read

A community-based study by Taylor Wilson and Shailesh Shukla was recently published in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development.

“Pathways to the revitalization of Indigenous food systems: Decolonizing Diets through Indigenous-focused Food Guides,” was written in response to the latest Canadian Food Guide (CFG).

It stemmed from the collaborative and community-based work with Fisher River Cree Nations (FRCN) to strengthen and revitalize their traditional food systems and improve well-being and food security.

“The article focuses on some of the many ways that the CFG, and associated rhetoric around healthy eating, tends to exclude Indigenous and POC perspectives and realities,” said Wilson on Wednesday.

“There are dozens of incredibly unique Indigenous communities across Canada who have self-defined what health and healthy eating is to them. The current guide doesn't reflect that, nor does it acknowledge the food security issues that many may face in order to follow their guidelines for healthy eating.”

Launched in January 2019, the CFG ensures to include a variety of multicultural diets and diverse perspectives on food, such as the food systems of Indigenous communities.

However, scholars argue that the Canadian designed food guide fails to address the numerous and multifaceted issues of food security, well-being, and nutritional needs of Indigenous communities.

Wilson and Shukla believe the current CFG may have inadvertently erased the Indigenous realities from the Canadian foodscape.

Their argument against the federal food guide was that the CFG does not represent the diverse population in the country and does not tackle the essential barriers to accessing healthy food, which leads to the marginalization of diets and food practices.

Empirical and community-based research has shown that weaving local and Indigenous food systems and associated knowledge and perspectives in the development of a food guide can have many positive impacts for protecting food environments.

Impacts could include restoring Indigenous foodways and cultures, improving food security and accessibility, as well as promoting local economies through community-based social enterprises.

After reviewing important works and collaborating on research engagements, Wilson and Shukla proposed that Indigenous communities should develop their food guides to consider their community's specific contexts, needs, and preferences.

“What we observed is that this new food guide gives very token acknowledgement to Indigenous food systems, which are increasingly being recognized in enhancing food and nutritional security outcomes for Indigenous communities,” said Shukla.

“We had some preliminary interactions with FRCN community and found a common ground, interest and need to design and pilot test FRCN specific food guide through collaborative research.”

The study’s research was guided by conversations with a supervisor, Indigenous scholars, and Indigenous community members, and experiences growing up as a person who ate differently and had different perspectives on food.

The paper is mostly based on secondary research as Wilson and Shukla could not pursue planned primary research in the FRCN due to current pandemic.

They intend to begin the community-based fieldwork as soon as the pandemic ends.

“We plan to engage both youth and knowledge-keepers, following the model of a wise practice approach that addresses the limitations FRCN community members have in making healthy food choices, accessing healthy and Indigenous foods, and sustainably revitalizing their cultural food practices,” said Shukla.

— Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun